Charlotte Ellison meets a woman named Vita Slatter at a fast food restaurant. Charlotte, called Charlie, is on the run from an endless horde of crowdfunded assassins, and she found Vita on “Defnd,” an app where one can hire bodyguards. A janitor tries to kill Charlie in the restaurant, and Vita puts him down. Vita and Charlie go on the run, and Charlie explains how this all went down. Meanwhile, the assassins don’t stop coming.
Crowded #1 is a brilliantly-constructed capitalist pseudo-science fiction nightmare. Good science fiction often taps into the current zeitgeist to construct a possible future based on a path we are currently upon. Crowded, to use an admittedly worn-out critical trope, reads like the U.S. in less than a decade.
This off-its-hinges story wraps itself around the current trend of freelance work like Uber, Lyft, Fiverr, and others being a primary source of very tenuous employment for countless individuals who have nowhere else to go for a paycheck. Charlie works a dozen odd jobs on a daily basis to keep herself fed, and Vita is a work-for-hire gun one can employ through an app.
The crowdfunded assassination app, “Reapr,” yeah, that probably isn’t happening anytime soon, but that’s the satire and artistic license. It’s a brutal satire of crowdfunding and said work-for-hire apps that have become so prominent.
The story is fun, even if Charlie’s recap can bog down the pacing somewhat. Charlie herself is a bubbly woman with a bit of an attitude and way more going on than we currently see. Vita plays straight man, being the more serious and savvier protagonist Charlie can be ridiculous towards.
Ro Stein’s artwork and Triona Farrell’s coloring are integral to the lighter mood Crowded aims to maintain. The at-times cartoonish styling and almost neon color palette keep the tone upbeat and prevent this from becoming something akin to Days of Hate. Charlie is ridiculous and funny, Vita is way too patient, Christopher Sebela keeps the humor consistent, but a slight change of the artistic styling and this could easily be a far more depressing read. Stein, Farrell, and Ted Brandt on inks perform and impressive balancing act, and the comic triumphs for it.
Crowded #1 is a clever, mostly fast-moving, and entertaining skewering of crowdfunding, freelance work applications, and the potential nightmare those things could entail. Sebela, Stein, Brandt, and Farrell do some great work here, and the book earns itself a recommendation. Check it out.
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